Facing flak from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over his "Ravan" jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has accused the ruling party of misusing his remarks for electoral gains in Gujarat, and said that politics is not about individuals but policies.
In his first reaction over the controversy, Mr Kharge told PTI that he believes in "performance politics", but the BJP's style of politics often lacks the spirit of democracy as "they make it about one person only, who is everywhere".
On the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) prospects in the ongoing Gujarat elections, he alleged that it was working at somebody's behest "to divide the Congress's votes."
Asked whether personal attacks, such as his own "Ravan" jibe, have become a key feature of the campaign, Mr Kharge said, "They are misusing it for electoral gains." "For us, politics is not about individuals. It is about policies, it is about their (BJP's) performance, and it is about the type of politics they practice. They make it about only one person, who is everywhere," the veteran Congress leader said.
"The BJP's and PM's style of politics often lacks the spirit of democracy. I gave so many instances regarding his style of campaigning at all levels of elections, but they are misusing my remark for electoral gains," Mr Kharge said.
"I don't comment on any individual or make personal remarks because I also have experience of parliamentary politics for 51 years. I criticised (the BJP government) on the issues of development, inflation, unemployment, poverty," he said.
Speaking at a rally in Ahmedabad earlier this week, Kharge had said PM Modi asks people to vote "looking at his face" in all elections. "Are you 100-headed like Ravan?" he had said.
The BJP seized on the comment, calling it an insult to every Gujarati.
Speaking about the prime minister's whirlwind campaign in Gujarat, Mr Kharge said it reflects badly on the BJP government's performance in the state.
"Did any PM (in the past) campaign like this? When I was a student, I used to see Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, then I saw Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, then I saw even Morarji Desai and leaders of other parties...Had the BJP government in the state worked for the people for the past 27 years, there would not have been the need to campaign so much," he said.
Asked about the AAP's aggressive campaign and the party contesting 181 of 182 seats in Gujarat this time, Kharge said its sole intention was to undermine the Congress.
"They are doing propaganda. Our feedback is that they want to disturb the Congress vote. I don't want to say anything because even if I tell the truth, it will be used as propaganda against Congress. Some people have been sent to contest against Congress to divide the votes. So that is their main purpose. Otherwise, how many booths, how many villages, how many panchayats they have gone to? They have gone to only the cities," he said.
Wondering where the Arvind Kejriwal-led party was getting funds for putting out full-page advertisements in all Gujarati and English newspapers, Kharge said it was a party born out of Anna Hazare's (anti-corruption) movement.
Asked if he was insinuating that the BJP had brought in the AAP to eat into the Congress's votes, Mr Kharge said he had received feedback from party leaders which shows that AAP was working on "somebody's instructions".
"I won't say that they (the BJP) have sent them. AAP's work itself reflects that. The way they are working, and (going by) my feedback from my local leaders, district leaders, shows that they are working on somebody's instructions," he said.
The Congress, which has been out of power in Gujarat for 27 years, carried out a "silent" campaign this time, Mr Kharge said.
"The people are responding. In tribal, rural, and backward areas, Congress has got an edge. Even the upper caste people are fed up with this government due to inflation, unemployment, corruption, the economic growth which is falling daily," he said.
"Silently, people are working against the BJP, they have made up their minds (to oust it). So our voters are invisible, but our people are working. Our voters are invisible for various reasons. The BJP has been (in power) in Gujarat for 27 years, and for nine years, Modi ji is in Delhi. Even the media is afraid, if anybody speaks the truth, they will be harassed in different ways," the 80-year-old leader said.
Talking about the Congress's subdued, door-to-door campaign, Kharge recalled Indira Gandhi's comeback victory from Chikmagalur Lok Sabha seat in 1978 when the voters were not vocal about their choice but favoured the former prime minister.
"Why I am saying invisible voters?...if somebody says something in the open, an FIR will be lodged against him or her. Our work is going on silently," he said.
Asked what would the Congress do to stop its MLAs from defecting to the BJP -- which happened after 2017 elections -- he said the BJP "bought over" those MLAs "by using central agencies and blackmail." "That is why we are saying, to save democracy, defeat the BJP," the Congress president said.
Under the BJP's rule, the public debt of Gujarat has increased enormously, Mr Kharge claimed.
"When we went out of power in the 1990s, the debt was Rs 10,000 crore, now it is nearing 4,60,000 crore," he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)